At Your Convenience: A Lavatorial Walking Tour
The Great Stink
Stop. Look out over the Thames again on your left.
Imagine we have come through the “lavatorial dark ages” into the 1800’s. At the turn of the century there were just under a million people in London. Fifty years later that number had more than doubled. Twice as many people doing their business. And most of that business is ending up in London’s water ways.
By the year 1858 it all became too much, and London had what came to be known as “The Summer of the Great Stink.” It was a very hot June, and the river began to smell so bad that people started to flee the city.
It was a problem for the politicians in the newly refurbished houses of parliament, which of course stands right on the water. You can see the iconic tower of Big Ben in front of you. Meetings could only be held behind very heavily curtained windows while the politicians held scented handkerchiefs over their faces to keep out the smell.
But that is how you get the attention of politicians… because once the Great Stink hit it took them all of two weeks to approve plans for a new sewer system.
Start walking again. You’ll need to head down the steps.
The man they called on to design the sewers was Joseph Bazalgette. He was the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of works. Because he had already made designs for a sewer prior to the Great Stink he was able to hit the ground running, and London’s Sewer Network became one of the wonders of the modern world. Bazalgette was a very forward thinking man, and built generously to allow for population growth, but it is unlikely he could have imagined that 150 years later his sewer would still be the main artery of London, serving a population of over 8 million!